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rescuing bitter pesto

  • Windy Jun 11, 2011 11:05 AM
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I made a batch of pesto from Italian basil, and like the leaves themselves, it's quite bitter. Having now added a handful each of precious pine nuts and good quality cheese, I'm finding it's still not very tasty.

Any ideas for doctoring the sauce?

I have fresh mint and rosemary, but not sure either of those would help. More garlic? Sweet carrots?

I'm going to freeze half, and hope that spread on a sandwich or in six months, I'll overlook the flavor.

Or something else to do with several bunches of bitter basil?

Thanks for any ideas.

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  1. Without being able to taste it, it's hard to say for sure, but maybe a little lemon juice? Did you use parmigiano-reggiano? I would not add any more pine nuts.

    1. Can you get your hands on some sweeter basil, make a batch of pesto you DO like and mix the two to mask the flavor of the bitter one? You might also try adding some other, less bitter green, like baby spinach leaves. More salt and lemon might help. You could also add more parmesan (it doesn't need to be the good stuff if you're just trying to dilute the bitterness) and/or more nuts (walnuts work fine, no need to break the bank with more pine nuts).

      1. I would try some nice fresh parsley.

        1. Add some honey, or just sugar. A bit at a time.

          1. Believe it or not, salt might help.

            What cheese are you using? Good italian parm. might help and have some of the same effect as salt, along with other good things.

            Also, note that straight pesto is naturally somewhat bitter from the leaves, garlic, nuts, black pepper, etc., but when moderated with some hot pasta water and the pasta itself, the effect is lessened. Have you made pesto often? Is this different?

            9 Replies
            1. re: Bada Bing

              Thanks all. Much appreciated.

              The only thing different about this pesto is the basil itself. And yes, it's good quality parmesan.

              I do have a lot of baby spinach, so I might try that along with salt and a little Meyer lemon juice. (There wasn't any lemon in it to start: basil, olive oil, cheese, pine nuts, salt.)

              I'm also going to try adding sun dried tomatoes to the pasta. TJs has nice moist sliced bags, which might add some sweetness.

              Will report back.

              1. re: Windy

                I find that a little Romano added with the Parmesan brightens the flavor of pesto. Also, it might be bitter to taste as straight, but once it is thinned out and on the pasta, the bitterness will be much less apparent -- particularly with some additional cheese. I've never had bitter basil, so I am surprised you have had this problem...

                1. re: Windy

                  it's great that you have Meyer juice, it'll be even more effective than standard lemon for correcting this. the baby spinach should help as well. or better yet, if you have any fresh mint on hand, it is basil's sweeter cousin...

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    Thanks, yes, I do have mint. The lemon juice helped a little (plus preserved the color). Will try with pasta later.

                  2. re: Windy

                    And the verdict is: don't throw good pasta after bad pesto. Tried pasta water, Meyer lemon, more cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt. Still tasted like green sludge. When was the last time you left noodles over?

                    Thanks for the suggestions. I will try more when I defrost the other half. (Or maybe I can move away and leave it in the freezer.)

                    1. re: Windy

                      bummer, sorry to hear that.

                      sounds like your best bet for the remainder is to repurpose it. try one (or more) of the following:
                      - combine with cream cheese or chevre and spread on crackers
                      - mix into homemade buttermilk/ranch dressing
                      - blend into white bean dip
                      - add to mashed potatoes or potato salad
                      - mix into meatballs
                      - add to scrambled eggs

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Great ideas, thank you. I have farmer cheese in the fridge and love that with any kind of spread.

                        I might also try muddling the fresh basil for cocktails, mojito-style. The lime and sugar should mask the harshness.

                        1. re: Windy

                          love farmer cheese :)

                          mojitos are a terrific idea, and since you said you also have mint, perhaps you can add a bit of it to mellow the basil.

                    2. re: Windy

                      no garlic?

                  3. Are you sure it's the basil and not a "pine-mouth" problem? If the nuts are the Chinese/Asian ones and that's the source of the bitterness, you should probably toss the batch.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: greygarious

                      Yes, the basil leaves are the issue. I started out making panzanella with them, but that wasn't good either.

                      The pine nuts are a little old, but I tasted them and they're fine.